What Diwali means to us

unnamed

Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is upon us, and I’m decluttering with ferocious intensity. I love clearing out stuff. I just love it. It is extremely therapeutic for me to shred old papers and empty out cupboards and drawers. So I naturally had to marry a man who is the world’s biggest hoarder. He has cartons and cartons of papers. And notebooks. And random knick-knacks. The child seems to have taken after him so far, and has a tussle with the poor Ajji who sweeps every single day; she picks out old rubber-bands and broken crayons from the piles of swept garbage and runs after the poor woman screaming “He nahi nyayche” (Don’t take that) and Ajji literally has to beg her everyday and say “No, I’m not taking anything home”.

I need our spare room for work now and I refuse to work in a musty environment surrounded by old cartons, so Diwali is just an excuse for me to issue the following threat to the husband: “You have five days to look through this rubbish and salvage what’s important, after which rip, rip, RIP papers (haha this pun was totally unintended!)

When I was a teenager, festivals (and even birthdays) seemed like immense pressure. Pressure to do things in a certain way, to enjoy myself. And somehow Diwali has always been a bad time for me, either emotionally or mentally or physically. I still remember this one Diwali with my chaddi buddy Saee, where we spent the whole Diwali week crying and collapsing in each other’s arms over a breakup and a toxic relationship. We walked around the empty streets and everybody was having fun and lighting up those Anaars (the flower pot or fountain firework) and we thought it just could not get worse. We even coined a term for that particular Diwali: “Viraan Samaa” or Tragic Time (taken from that song ‘Kitni Baatein’ from the movie Lakshya). Just recalling all that drama over romantic relationships makes me cringe and wish I had put those years to better use!

Then one Diwali a few years later, my PCOD began where I experienced bleeding for a month and blew up like a balloon. So all in all, I associate feeling low or melancholy with Diwali. When we got married, I really wanted to change that, but sigh, some curses cannot be broken easily and Abhi and I also had some really miserable Diwalis. (Yes, we specialize in fighting on festivals, birthdays, anniversaries and all those big days!)

This year, with Rumi, I was determined to change all of that and really celebrate Diwali. She is two-and-a-half  now and is really beginning to understand and participate in everything around her so we wanted to start building some traditions with her. The problem was to decide what our Diwali tradition as a family was going to be. To me, festivals mean major decluttering, cleaning up, washing and scrubbing and dusting. Every single thing has to be done in a certain way; and more importantly, at the right time, as prescribed by society or the Holy Scriptures. Waking up at 5 and having a bath, Rangoli at the doorstep, Diyas; everything done the way I remember my Ajji doing when I was a kid. For Abhi though, festivals at home are quite a chilled scene. Everything gets done, just a little later than usual. There is no hurry and no mad rush to accomplish anything. Festivals at the Purandares are very relaxed, such that in the initial days of our marriage, I missed the hustle in the air that I associated with festivals. Gradually I grew more relaxed myself, and started enjoying the cool pace.

I think back with great fondness to Eid at Mummy’s with that gorgeous aroma of slow-cooked meat wafting from the kitchen. By the time, the Biryani and Sheer Khurma would be ready, we would all be faint with hunger as breakfast would naturally have to be skipped because there was so much chaos in the kitchen. Mum, after all that hard work, would hardly be able to eat a morsel because she was so fatigued. I understand how much work it is for women and it is unfair that the load falls on them but it breaks my heart a little to order food on Eid and not have Mum’s Biryani.

So I think, what I want most for Rumi, is to establish patterns that are easily manageable, repeatable and continuable. I would just love to make Faraal at home for her but that is being too ambitious especially if I want to also clean the house the way I do. In the Cleaning  Vs. DIY food-items battle, Cleaning wins hands-down so we settle for store-bought stuff. What I really wish for her is to learn to create and enjoy the process of creativity early on. (I learnt all about creativity much too late in life and it really is the antidote to everything! Even now I was irritated by some triviality and I can feel that irritation leave me as I type away).

And what better time than Diwali to DIY and let the creative juices flow? I get together with a dear friend, Aabha, who is such a creative firecracker, and we organize a Diya painting / fairy-lights making / lantern making session together. Killa or fort-making would have been included too but for time constraints. The little girls really have a good time! They dip their fingers into the paint with glee and smear it all over. Aabha and I get involved too and we are almost grabbing the Diyas from the girls in a bid to do it ourselves! This is definitely something I would love to continue for Rumi; making what we need ourselves, from materials that are available at home.

The first day of Diwali dawns; the house is presentable if not exactly how I would have liked it. Abhi has to work so Rumi and I wake up and have a bath and get ready. Then we decide to do a Pooja, but there is no Devghar (household shrine) here, so we make do, with our favorite Ganpati (Lord Ganesha) idol and favorite books and Baba’s laptop. Except that Rumi wants to do things exactly like we do at the in-laws but I do not have the necessary goods or Pooja sahitya here. This leads to a temper tantrum and it is not even mid-morning. “Jay Bappa (God) is going to come over”, I tell her solemnly. “We want to welcome Him with smiles and cheer and pray to him to shower gold coins on us.” (On Dhanteras we pray for wealth hence the shower of gold coins; I totally get symbolism, now that we have a child!). Her eyes open wide and she looks to the skies for a golden rain. “Not immediately. He’s watching how you behave”. The tears immediately stop.

Then I ask her to pose for a picture with the Aakash Kandil (paper lantern). Instagram quality images come to my mind – little girl with bright lantern, beaming. (I can make it my display pic on WhatsApp and upload it on Facebook, goodness, I can even use it on my blog, yay!) But she refuses, and this leads to temper tantrum number two, but by Mommy. “You normally love photos” I mope. “Why can’t you stand still?” and so on and so forth. Here I am, tormenting my child for the pressure to have a lovely smiling picture on social media. Not just that, I want to record memories too. But what sort of memory am I trying to record? Me shrieking like a banshee because my child won’t pose? I put away the phone but things aren’t improving. By noon, Rumi has changed her clothes five times and lost her temper 24 times before I finally start to see where I am going wrong.

I am making Rumi do exactly what I used to hate about festivals. I am under pressure to click pictures and do things that I don’t normally do and she is not enjoying it. I don’t want her to run about in her chaddi and discard that lovely new frock. We tried to cut corners and didn’t shop for Diwali but I insisted on a new dress for Rumi for all five days. Now one of those inexpensive-looking-but-actually-expensive cotton frocks is lying in a crumpled pile on the floor. I almost can’t bear it, but I hold myself back because I realize that she wants it to be like any other day. She is happy sitting naked on the floor and she wants me to get out of my fancy clothes and join her. What I realize here is that I just need to keep it real. Real and achievable and attainable and not how it ‘should’ be celebrated. As much as I want it to be rosy and picture perfect, our family is never going to look like those Diwali ads with fairy lights and children dressed in beautiful Indian wear. I may try my best to hang those fairy lights but my little girl yanks them off. She pulls off her festive clothes and throws those hairbands on the floor and looks like a complete ragamuffin. So let me try to be grateful for this strong-willed, messy, stubborn little powerhouse instead of trying to make her fit into the beatific pictures of my dreams.

So that’s the second Diwali tradition I want for our house: to keep it real. And this is what real will look like: me cleaning frantically in one corner of the house, even as my husband pulls out a sheaf of papers in the other room. Rumi, sprawled on the floor trying to string the fairy lights around her neck like a necklace. She has already pulled out two lights from the cord. Her very old, stained, T-shirt is covered with crumbs from the Laddoo the next door Ajji just gave her. When we put on the lights in the evening, we will all smile and go into the balcony to look at them and we might just get a perfect picture of the three of us. But then again, we may forget to pull out our phones and just enjoy being with each other.

A creative Diwali, but a very real Diwali, with lowered expectations of what things should look like, but filled with grace and abundance and love. My wish this year for us, for all of us.

Coping with the Terrible Twos Part 2: On the toddler side

In the previous post I wrote about things that are helping me maintain a semblance of sanity. Here, I’m noting down some tips and ideas that are of help while dealing with Rumi.

  1. Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are a result of and also result in great frustration. Rumi gets frustrated because she wants to do an activity on her own but is unable to do so, or she is trying hard to tell me something but I am unable to understand it. I get frustrated because I am trying hard to make sense of a lot of gibberish, knowing all the while that with every ticking minute, it’s getting worse and worse. While tantrums are sometimes triggered off by the most random, unexpected, hilarious things that we cannot always predict, there are a few things that have helped me control Rumi’s tantrums effectively.

The first cardinal rule is to never, ever laugh at a tantrum. Sometimes we can’t help it, the whole thing seems sooo funny to us – Rumi flat on the floor because the large block wouldn’t balance on top of the small block, but to her, it is a very real, serious thing. No matter how trivial it is, it helps to make eye contact and listen seriously like you would to an adult. So whenever you sense a tantrum coming up, sit your toddler at eye level and talk to them in a firm but loving tone (they can pick up on your impatience and irritability like magic and it makes things worse).

Encourage your child to talk about feelings and emotions. A really fantastic book that helped us with this is “Happy” by Mies van Hout. It has gorgeous illustrations and one word emotions such as “curious” and “jealous” and “brave”. We started using it when Rumi was 18 months old and decided upon an action for each word. Now Rumi uses the book very well to tell us that she is “angry” or “irritated” using the book as reference. Older children can also be asked to draw how they are feeling.

Also, I always ask Rumi to choose between two things to eat, wear etc. rather than ask her an open ended question such as “What do you want to eat?” as such questions very often lead to frustration on her part as she doesn’t quite know how to frame the answer. Moreover, this way she can be guided (manipulated?!) into doing something I want her to do rather than getting her own way by replying “chocolates”! And she feels like she gets to choose.

I have never used a naughty mat or chair in the corner, though many parents find it to be an effective tool for controlling misbehavior. I have found that in this age, Rumi really needs me to be around when she is losing it and leaving her alone has often aggravated things. Also, she doesn’t really quite get why kicking or hitting is wrong, she is merely doing different things to see our reaction, more than make us mad. However, if you find yourself losing your cool, it is a good idea to leave the room for a few minutes and then come back and hold your child.

  1. Picky Eating

I have written a whole, separate post on mealtime tussles in our house (read it here) and can still go on and on about fussy eating habits.

One thing I have really learned is to stop focusing on the weight chart as a health development milestone and focus on good eating habits that will hopefully stay with Rumi for life. I grew up eating most of my meals in front of the TV and I honestly still like to do that, but I want things to be different for Rumi. I want mealtimes to become family time, where we eat at the table and talk about the day. I want Rumi to try new foods and new flavours instead of serving a one-bowl meal that I stuff into her mouth while she is watching something on my phone. This is really hard for the grandmoms to get; the MIL keeps on saying that “hya vayaat mula ashich khatat” (this is how all kids eat at this age) whereas my mom flat out refuses to listen to me and does exactly what she likes (iPad, games, everything and anything that makes Rumi mindlessly open her mouth is allowed). It really makes them feel good that Rumi has finished off an entire bowl and my feeble attempts at explaining how she had only chatkor chapatti at home but ate the bhaji happily is like water off a duck’s back.

And this is the big problem with parenting: how do you really know what is indeed the best thing? I have experienced my heart falling into my shoes on more than one occasion when I see plumper babies and see how small Rumi is in comparison. But the pediatrician and common sense (in the form of my husband’s voice) usually come to the rescue and I can see that skinny need not be synonymous with unhealthy.

And although, it is really tempting to watch TV during dinnertime, especially since Masterchef Australia and Friends are on, I try my best to convince myself that good eating habits are worth investing in, in the long run. So, at least four times a week, we eat at the table and Rumi eats whatever we eat, at dinnertime. She is allowed to use her fingers, slurp, lick and yes, drop a little too. There is plenty of time for table manners later.

  1. Bedtime Battles

Rumi hates to be taken to the dark, quiet bedroom and leave all the excitement and light and TV outside. What with all that boundless energy, waiting for her to tire herself out would probably mean waiting until the wee hours of the morning. On the other hand, it is not possible to expect my husband or other members of the family to turn off all the lights and get into bed at nine. The trick, we learned, is to make the whole bedtime ritual a lot more fun by including some activities that are especially reserved for bedtime so that it becomes something to look forward to.

For example, we have an owl hand-puppet from Hamleys that only comes out at night for storytelling. Also, some favorite books are reserved for bedtime. (Love you Forever by Robert Munsch is a big hit here!). Special dinosaur pajamas, radium stars on the ceiling or a musical night lamp, anything that makes bedtime fun and interesting works.

Also, once Rumi is in the bedroom, I don’t really fret about what time she actually falls asleep. I allow her to wind down at her own pace – she is allowed to indulge in quiet activities like drawing, looking at her picture cards or playing with her pillows till her eyes start to close.

This ‘bedroom time’ has really helped her associate ‘getting into pajamas’ with something that is positive and fun rather than dull and boring.

 

  1. Multimedia Clashes

I want to say right at the outset that I am very, very against kids using tablets and phones and the like. My husband likes to download different Apps for Rumi and loves to see her excitement when she uses them but I hate to see her with her nose almost touching her iPad, oblivious to sounds around her, stuck to one place for hours. I hate it when people exclaim and find it clever that she unlocks and swipes the iPad screen with ease and goes to whichever App she wants. (‘intuitive learning’ beams my husband and I just want to throw the damn thing out of the window!).

I know, I know that “technology is a tool” and a “powerful” one and that it can be used very effectively when used “wisely”. But it is just so damn addictive! How can a poor blank sheet of paper and a few crayons hope to compete with a screen filled with colors, sounds and touch? Once kids are hooked on to it, there are very few other things that they’d rather do.

There is lots of research that speaks against the use of electronic media for children but again, a lot of evidence to show how it benefits children so there is really no solution to the ongoing debate in our house but compromise.

We have not introduced Rumi to the TV or to cartoons yet. My husband is dying to take her for a movie so that’ll probably happen this week on one of their ‘dates’.  Rumi loves to watch songs on the iPad and videos on our phones. I try to limit such things to “emergency” situations like doctors’ waiting rooms or long car trips.

In my opinion, TV or games on the phone should never be offered as rewards. They should also never become an integral part of the child’s schedule, where the timing of a particular show decides where to eat, when to head out etc. Naturally, this means doing it yourself first. I cannot zonk out with the remote control in hand and expect Rumi to sit down with a book. To try and avoid using the TV and phone as much as I can, I have one night a week I sit up to plan activities for every day of the week (this is the same time I plonk down in front of the TV and watch to my heart’s content!).

My take on this: limit TV, phone and tablet time as far as possible and lead by example!

 

  1. Dressing Dramas

For all the wisdom that I have passed on in the points above, I have absolutely no gyaan here because the dressing dramas at our place have reached an all-time new low: they include not just the half an hour spent in running behind the child like a screaming banshee brandishing her shorts and T-shirts in the air, but Rumi wailing and insisting that she and I BOTH remain “nangu”. And let me just be very clear here: my husband and I are not nudists and we do not remain naked within the private confines of our apartment so I have no idea in hell how she has got that! It’s bad enough that she wants to be nangu all the time but to point at me and scream “Nangu ho na” in a park? Words fail me. Any advice or input would be much appreciated!